So we’ve come to this: The lesson that George W. Bush seems to have extracted from the dramatic November elections, from the mounting national demand to start pulling out of Iraq, is to get us in ever deeper. The self-proclaimed “decider” has apparently decided to ignore the few common-sense recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, as well as the counsel of just about every other public voice in the foreign policy establishment, and instead wants to satisfy his urge to surge.
The President not only itches to “stay the course” but threatens to put the pedal to the metal and send another 20,000–or maybe 30,000–American troops to help secure Baghdad. No matter that the last time the United States flooded the Iraqi capital with troops it only produced more violence. No matter that every reasonable analyst has told him that the solution to the war in Iraq is political, not military.
The loudest sideline cheerleader for this reckless option is the candidate who hopes to replace Bush in 2008: John McCain. He argued on a recent trip to Baghdad that if US troops leave Iraq in chaos, groups like Al Qaeda “will follow us home.” If the Beltway conventional wisdom is right–that McCain is merely staking out an “I told you so” position for his presidential run–his endorsement of the surge is even more contemptible.
We know what may be driving McCain in his support of a doomed policy, but what’s the trouble with Harry? Appearing on ABC This Week, incoming Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid said he would “go along” with the President’s proposed troop surge, so long as it was only for a few months and only if it led to eventual withdrawal. Fortunately, other Democratic voices–Senators Ted Kennedy, Jack Reed and Joe Biden, to name a few–immediately rebutted Reid. And while the Congressional Democrats are divided on the details of what to do next in Iraq, there’s the creeping fear that, victims of excessive caution, they have squandered the weeks since the election. Too much time has been lost, too much hope was invested in the Baker-Hamilton report, and not enough has been done to articulate a clear, viable alternative to what’s streaming from the White House.
The Democrats must remember that their midterm victory was a clear mandate from the American people not to waffle or to dawdle but to immediately reverse Bush’s war policy. When the latest polls show three out of four Americans wanting troops out of Iraq, when former Secretary of State Colin Powell says more troops won’t work, when our current military commanders, from John Abizaid and George Casey to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have clearly signaled they’re opposed to the surge, when Republican Senator Gordon Smith suggests the Iraq policy is “criminal,” the Democrats have no choice but to be on the front line of calls for disengagement and withdrawal.
When the Democratic majority is formally seated in early January, it will be confronted with a sharp challenge. As Marc Cooper reports in these pages, there’s a different kind of surge mounting in the military. Almost 1,000 active-duty soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, rank-and-file enlistees as well as dozens of high-ranking officers, have signed a historic petition to Congress–what they call an Appeal for Redress–demanding that the troops be brought home. While their communication to Congress is protected by law, many of these active-duty troops, including some who still want to make the military their lifetime career, have taken the bold and risky step of standing up publicly to oppose the war. Can’t comfortably elected Democrats do as much?